Outdoors | Sarasota Photo All-Release Challenge ushers in spring tourney season

jlembo@bradenton.comApril 20, 2014 

Gulf Coast Chopper, which placed second in the offshore division of the 26th annual Sam Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament, display their catch to the Bradenton Yacht Club crowd at a 2009 weigh-in. HERALD FILE PHOTO

BRADENTON -- In the eyes of Capt. Brad Fuller, the Coastal Conservation Association Sarasota Photo All-Release Challenge is THE fishing tournament of Sarasota.

"There's a lot of interest. And there's no money at stake, only bragging rights. That's about it," said Fuller, in his first year as director of the 19-year-old tournament. "We've sold out every year, and this year will not be an exception."

The All-Release Challenge gets underway next weekend, ushering in a slew of tournaments that includes the Crosthwait Memorial Fishing Tournament (May 16-18), the Gulf Coast Open (May 17), the Fire Charity Fishing Tournament (June 6-8) and the DeSoto Fishing Tournament (July 11-13).

The All-Release Challenge is headquartered at The New Pass Room at Mote Marine and begins at 6 p.m. Friday with a reception and anglers registration, followed by a captain's meeting at 7:30 p.m.

Fishing begins at 6 a.m. Saturday.

For $125, entrants receive a tackle box, a shirt, a measuring board and a number. Using only the tackle provided, the competitors put a number on and measure everything they catch. Then they remove the number, release the fish and give their camera's memory card -- cameras and chips are not provided -- to the tournament judges.

"We don't allow the keeping of anything," Fuller said.

There's also a junior division for kids 12 and younger, all of whom received a plaque.

Go to ccaflorida.org to register online.

The Crosthwait, an amateur tournament set to enter its 31st season, gets a new wrinkle in the form of its new billfish extreme offshore division.

"We did that to make it a little more an even playing field," said Jeff Stephenson, a member of the tournament's board of directors. "By doing that, we can open the offshore division to more people who didn't think they can compete with these guys. Some people, they don't think they can compete with people running 200 miles offshore."

The Crosthwait, hosted by the Bradenton Yacht Club, also will serve as the first leg of the inaugural West Coast Triple Crown Billfish Series. The Old Salt Loop Tournament, scheduled for August in St. Petersburg, is the second leg, and the triple crown concludes in September at the Sarasota Suncoast Shootout.

"You have to fish all three," Stephenson said. "It's going to be pretty exciting."

A mandatory captain's meeting is scheduled for noon May 16, and registration runs that night from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Check-in is at 6:45 a.m. May 17 at the mouth of the Manatee River, and fishing begins with a Bimini start at 7:30 p.m.

Log on to crosthwaitfishing.com for more information.

Partnering again with the Crosthwait is Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc., which is designed to help rehabilitate disabled members of the military through fly fishing. Stephenson said more than 30 guides as well as 30 veterans and their companions have signed up for the event, which takes place May 17.

"It's quite intriguing to see how much of a positive boost it is for these vets," Stephenson said. "They're really excited about it."

The fourth annual Gulf Coast Open will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central and Northern Florida on May 17 from Sara Bay Marina. The tournament headquarters will be at the Ramada Sarasota Waterfront Hotel, and a captain's meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. May 16. Information can be found at gulfcoastopen.com.

Entry fees are $1,000 for the Big Pig Shoot-Out, $400 for the Contender Kingfish Jackpot and $150 for the Bearded Clam Bayboat Division. A $50 entry fee per species gives anglers a chance to win prizes for amberjack, cobia, redfish, Spanish mackerel and seatrout.

The 7th Annual Fire Charity Fishing Tournament costs $15 and runs along the Manatee River. Proceeds benefit the Children's Burn Camp. Last year's camp raised $7,000, according to the tournament's website.

The event also features the 3rd Annual Kids Tournament on June 7. Information can be found at firecharityfishing.com.

The DeSoto tournament begins July 13. For information, head to desotohq.com.

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